"We can't guard a stop sign," Kuzma said, via The Athletic's Josh Robbins. "That's kind of really what it boils down to. We let anybody get whatever they want on us. So, until we change that, then that's probably going to be the result."
The Magic, who entered the game with the 16th-best offense in the NBA, scored 133.7 points per 100 possessions against the Wizards. After this explosion, Orlando's offense ranks 13th, and Washington's defense, which was tied for the No. 29 spot, is now alone at the bottom: 120.1 points per 100 possessions. If this stat stays this bad, it would be the highest single-season defensive rating of the play-by-play era.
(That means the highest since 1996-97. The 2023-24 Wizards also have the highest defensive rating ever according to Stathead, which uses a formula to estimate possession counts dating back to 1973-74, and according to Cleaning The Glass, which removes heaves and garbage time. It's worth noting, though, that the NBA is in the midst of a scoring boom and last year's San Antonio Spurs currently have the worst defensive rating in history. This year's Charlotte Hornets have also been worse than those Spurs, and the Indiana Pacers have only been a few percentage points better.)
Kuzma's quote is appropriately bleak. This is a team that is not only the worst in the league when it comes to getting stops in the halfcourt, but the worst when it comes to forcing teams to play in the halfcourt, per Cleaning The Glass. Only the Indiana Pacers are allowing more points in the paint, and nobody is allowing more offensive rebounds. (Nobody's grabbing fewer offensive rebounds, either, but that's a different story.)
Washington is a rebuilding team that has Jordan Poole playing a featured role, but must its defense be this bad? Is there anything it can do to avoid giving up 139 points to an average offense like Orlando's?
"Maybe just lock into player tendencies, build a game plan around their tendencies and what they want to do and make them play to their weaknesses, and I think we'll give ourselves a better chance," Kuzma told reporters. "A lot of times, we're letting their players, whether it's Franz [Wagner] get to his right hand, [Joe] Ingles get to his left hand, and that causes a lot of spray-outs, on top of our terrible transition defense."
Asked if the Wizards' biggest problem was in halfcourt or transition, Kuzma said: "Both."
Besides starting center Daniel Gafford, Washington's best rim protector is 19-year-old wing Bilal Coulibaly, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds. Poole is always a pressure point, Danilo Gallinari is the backup center and, while Deni Avdija is a tough defender, he's overextended against opposing stars.
"It's the cards we're dealt," Kuzma said. "We have to play a certain way on defense. Other teams in the league have the luxury to play big and switch 1 through 5 and do those type of things. We can't. We have to play a certain type of way, so we just have to figure it out with what we have. And that's it, really, so."
In coach Wes Unseld Jr.'s first two seasons, the Wizards weren't great on defense, either, but, by playing a conservative style that baited opponents into midrange shots, they were at least able to have a good defensive shot profile. That shot profile has deteriorated, even though Gafford is still usually in drop coverage. They miss Kristaps Porzingis, and, lately, they've missed Delon Wright, their best perimeter defender, who has been out since Nov. 10 with a sprained left knee.
Washington is 3-15 on the season, thanks largely to its dismal defense. But hey, it could be worse -- the Detroit Pistons are 2-16, and they lost to the Wizards by 19 on Monday.